HP officials face charges as California pursues case

A day after Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) chairman Patricia Dunn promised to step down for her role in a spy scandal, the state of California is continuing its effort to indict her and the private investigators she used.

Dunn’s actions were not merely unethical but actually violated the law, and the state now has enough evidence to indict people both within HP and contractors outside the company, according to Thomas Dressler, a spokesman for California Attorney General Bill Lockyer.

In her efforts to discover the source of press leaks about board deliberations, HP has acknowledged that Dunn hired a private investigation firm to pose as the 10 suspected board members and journalists in order to convince the phone company to disclose private phone records. This is a practice known as pretexting.

In an interview on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer Tuesday, Lockyer said that under California law, people involved in the probe could be charged with crimes both for falsely taking another person’s identity and for accessing computer records with their personal information. Dressler confirmed Lockyer’s comments.

HP hired investigation firm Security Outsourcing Solutions Inc. (SOS), which shares its Boston offices with a law firm called Bonner, Kiernan, Trebach and Crociata, according to a report in The New York Times that sited sources close to the case. The Times also said that the California and Massachusetts attorney generals were working together on the case.

Dressler declined to confirm the name of the security firm HP hired, or whether California and Massachusetts are working together on the case.

“I’m not going to deny it, but beyond what the attorney general said I’m not going to comment. It’s not prudent for prosecutors to mention names before bringing charges,” Dressler said.

A call to SOS on Wednesday was answered by a woman who recited the name of the law firm, but denied the two businesses were connected. She declined to give her name, and said that no one was immediately available for comment.

Ironically, an SOS newsletter posted on the firm’s Web site warns corporate executives that their privacy is at risk since their Web surfing and e-mail records can be traced by Internet browsers and cookies. It advises clients to shield their identities by using a Web site called Anonymizer.com.

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